SpaceX teases with Falcon Heavy interstage photo
SpaceX teased a photo of its Falcon Heavy rocket by posting a picture of the interstage of the heavy-lift booster. In addition to its backlogged manifest, the Hawthorne, California-based company hopes to launch the vehicle sometime in 2017.
The Falcon Heavy has been anticipated for many years now. It was originally expected to launch from the company’s West Coast launch facility as early as 2013, but due to design changes in parallel with the upgrade of the Falcon 9 v1.1 vehicle, and later the Falcon 9 Full Thrust variant, that was pushed to 2015.
However, due to two launch failures of the Falcon 9 rocket within 14 months of each other and the subsequent recovery and catch up work related to the incidents, the first Heavy launch was pushed to mid-2017.
Falcon Heavy will consist of a Falcon 9 Full Thrust core stage with two additional F9 first stage boosters on the side acting as strap-on boosters. It looks similar to United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy but will be able to lift twice as much.
When it launches, its 27 Merlin 1D engines will be able to lift 54.4 metric tons to low-Earth orbit. This will make it the most powerful rocket in operation, at least until NASA’s Space Launch System debuts in late 2018. Historically, it will be the fourth most powerful rocket ever built and successfully launched, behind the U.S.-built Saturn V rocket and the Space Shuttle system (if you count the winged Orbiter as payload) as well as the Soviet-built Energia rocket.
SpaceX, however, still needs to return the Falcon 9 rocket to safe flight. The vehicle has been grounded since a Sept. 1, 2016, launch pad explosion, which destroyed the rocket and the $200 million Amos 6 payload.
The company is currently finalizing the investigation into the failure, which has focused on a breach in the second stage cryogenic helium system. In an Oct. 28 update on SpaceX’s website, the firm believes, though extensive testing, the failure was due to loading conditions that affected the temperature and pressure of the helium being loaded.
Elon Musk, the company’s founder and CEO, said that throughout the course of the investigation the company hoped to launch again by the end of 2016, but in a bid to give engineers more time to finalize the investigation as well as prepare multiple rockets (one at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and the other at the recently modified Launch Complex 39A in Florida), it was decided to launch in January 2017 instead. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration has yet to sign off on the company’s findings.
2017 is expected to be a busy year for the NewSpace firm. In addition to returning the Falcon 9 to flight and eventually launching the Falcon Heavy, it hopes to re-fly one of its recovered boosters, continue work toward the first Crew Dragon unpiloted test flight, and repair the damaged Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral.
All the while, the company is continuing to construct its private launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas. According to a local report from KRGV, construction is well underway with a lot of work being done late at night and early in the morning.
Earlier in the year, a large white antenna was delivered and installed next to the local village. It will be one of two ground stations used to track Dragon flights to the International Space Station.
The first flight from this facility is expected to occur no earlier than 2018.
Video courtesy of SpaceX
Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.